INTRODUCTION ON STRESS Today’s age is called “The Age of Anxiety” and this century is called “TheCentury of Stress”. Today vast majorities of people are in a state of Stress. Their fast-pacedlifestyle demands that they are raring to go always and are always under pressure toperform. This pressure usually leads to Stress. Stress can be due to various reasons. AndStress in many cases causes Tension, Depression, Anxiety, etc. A lot of research has been conducted into ‘stress’ over the last hundred years. Sometheories about it are now settled and accepted; others are still being researched and debated.Hans Selye was one of the founding fathers of research on stress. He stated in 1956 that“Stress is not necessarily something bad – it all depends on how we take it.” The stressof exhilarating, creative successful that of failure, humiliation or infection is detrimental.Since then, a great deal of further research has been conducted on the subject, and new ideashave come to light. Stress is now viewed as a "bad thing", with a range of harmful biochemical and long-term effects. These effects have rarely been observed in positive situations. Stress is thatstress is a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that “demands exceedthe personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize.” In short, it is whatwe feel when we think we have lost control over events. There are very many proven skillsthat we can use to manage stress. These help us to remain calm and effective in high-pressure situations, and help us avoid the problems of long term stress. Stress is something that occurs all the time and affects everyone one way or anotherat least some of the time. Stress can be a good thing. It can be a source of motivation to helpget something done or help one to react quickly to a potentially dangerous situation.
HISTORY OF STRESS Since the origin of the term stress it is ambiguous stress began life as a variant ondistress in the 14th century. It meant the experience of physical hardship, starvation, torture,and pain. These days, however, the term revolves around the medieval definition, in whichstress simply meant hardship. The recent scientific developments inform us that stress isactually good for us. Stress is derived from the Latin word stranger, meaning to draw tight,and was used in the 17th century to describe hardships or affliction. During the late 18thcentury stress denoted "force, pressure, strain or strong effort," referring primarily to anindividual or to an individuals organs or mental powers (Hinkle, 1973). As has already been noted, stress has been defined as a stimulus, a response, or theresult of an interaction between the two, with the interaction described in terms of someimbalance between the person developed, particularly that surrounding the person-environment (P-E) interaction, researches have considered the nature of that interaction and,more importantly, the psychological processes which it takes place (Dewey, 1992). Stress is a physiological and psychological imbalance. It arises due to the demandson a person and that person’s inability to meet these demands. Stress is the body’s way ofreacting to any situation and it can have serious repercussions on an individual’s life. Yet,people fail to realize the importance of stress management in their lives. Effective managerscan stay in control of life, without panicking even under stressful situations. They handlestress by planning work, taking regular breaks, and rejuvenating them.
STRESS! What is it???“STRESS IS THE DEMAND MADE UPON THE ADAPTIVE CAPACITY OF MINDAND BODY” --- DAVID FONTANA. It isn’t easy to find a generally acceptable definition of stress. The word withdifferent people takes different meanings … be it professionals, psychologists, doctors,engineers, management consultants, all use the word in their own distinctive ways.Management consultants talk in terms of organizational challenges, psychologists in termsof human behaviour and doctors in terms of psychological mechanisms. The word ‘stress’ is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “a state of affairinvolving demand on physical or mental energy". A condition or circumstance (notalways adverse), which can disturb the normal physical and mental health of anindividual. In medical parlance stress is defined as a perturbation of the body’s homeostasis. At one end of a scale, stress represents those challenges that excite us and keepus on our toes whereas on the other end, stress represents those conditions underwhich individuals have demands made upon them that they cannot physically andpsychologically meet. Hence, at one end, stress is a life- saver and the other it is a life-destroyer.TO DEFINE STRESS… It is a demand made upon the adaptive capacities of mind and body. Thisdefinition is useful in three ways… Firstly, it makes clear not only that stress can be both, good or bad, but also thatsince there is wide range of things that can make demand over the mind and the body, thereis wide range of things that can cause stress. Secondly, it infers the point that it isn’t the events that determine that we are stressedor not, but it is our reactions to them.
And thirdly, as the definition says… that stress is a demand made upon thebody’s capacities, its nature and the extent of these capacities determine our response to thedemand. If our capacities are good enough we will respond well. If they aren’t… we giveaway. Stress is the "wear and tear" our bodies experience as we adjust to our continuallychanging environment; it has physical and emotional effects on us and can createpositive or negative feelings. As a positive influence, stress can help compel us toaction; it can result in a new awareness and an exciting new perspective. As anegative influence, it can result in feelings of distrust, rejection, anger, and depression,which in turn can lead to health problems such as headaches, upset stomach, rashes,insomnia, ulcers, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. With the death of aloved one, the birth of a child, a job promotion, or a new relationship, weexperience stress as we read just our lives. In so adjusting to different circumstances,stress will help or hinder us depending on how we react to it. Stress is a fact of life. But too much stress can break down a persons physical,mental, and emotional health. Planning can help people to manage stress in their lives.They must begin to make choices that support their values and develop a personal plan totake charge of their lives.
TYPES OF STRESS - SOME GOOD, SOME BAD Did you know that some types of stress can be good for you? Thats right! Someforms of stress can be good for you, but other types of stress disorders can cause majorhealth problems and even be life threatening.There are four main types of stress that people experience.EUSTRESS Eustress is a type of short-term stress that provides immediate strength. Eustress arisesat points of increased physical activity, enthusiasm, and creativity. Eustress is a positivestress that arises when motivation and inspiration are needed. A gymnast experienceseustress before a competition.DISTRESS Distress is a negative stress brought about by constant readjustments or alterations in aroutine. Distress creates feelings of discomfort and unfamiliarity.There are two types of distress.1. Acute stress is an intense stress that arrives and disappears quickly. Acute stress is the most common form of stress. It comes from demands and pressures of the recent past and anticipated demands and pressures of the near future. Acute stress is thrilling and exciting in small doses, but too much is exhausting. Because it is short term, acute stress doesnt have enough time to do the extensive damage associated with long-term stress. Acute stress can crop up in anyones life, and it is highly treatable and manageable.2. Chronic stress is a prolonged stress that exists for weeks, months, or even years. Someone who is constantly relocating or changing jobs may experience distress. While acute stress can be thrilling and exciting, chronic stress is not. This is the grinding stress that wears people away day after day, year after year. Chronic stress destroys bodies,
minds and lives. It wreaks havoc through long-term attrition. Its the stress of poverty, of dysfunctional families, of being trapped in an unhappy marriage or in a despised job or career The worst aspect of chronic stress is that people get used to it. They forget its there. People are immediately aware of acute stress because it is new; they ignore chronic stress because it is old, familiar, and sometimes, almost comfortable. HYPERSTRESS Hyper stress occurs when an individual is pushed beyond what he or she can handle.Hyper stress results from being overloaded or overworked. When someone is hyperstressed, even little things can trigger a strong emotional response. A Wall Street trader islikely to experience hyper stress.HYPOSTRESS Hypo stress is the opposite of hyper stress. Hypo stress occurs when an individual isbored or unchallenged. People who experience hypo stress are often restless anduninspired. A factory worker who performs repetitive tasks might experience hypo stress.
SIX MYTHS ABOUT STRESS Six myths surround stress. Dispelling them enables us to understand our problemsand then take action against them. Lets look at these myths.Myth 1: Stress is the same for everybody.Completely wrong. Stress is different for each of us. What is stressful for one person may ormay not be stressful for another; each of us responds to stress in an entirely different way.Myth 2: Stress is always bad for you.According to this view, zero stress makes us happy and health. Wrong. Stress is to thehuman condition what tension is to the violin string: too little and the music is dull andraspy; too much and the music is shrill or the string snaps. Stress can be the kiss of death orthe spice of life. The issue, really, is how to manage it. Managed stress makes us productiveand happy; mismanaged stress hurts and even kills us.Myth 3: Stress is everywhere, so you cant do anything about it.Not so. You can plan your life so that stress does not overwhelm you. Effective planninginvolves setting priorities and working on simple problems first, solving them, and thengoing on to more complex difficulties. When stress is mismanaged, its difficult to prioritize.All your problems seem to be equal and stress seems to be everywhere.Myth 4: The most popular techniques for reducing stress are the best ones.Again, not so. No universally effective stress reduction techniques exist. We are all different,our lives are different, our situations are different, and our reactions are different. Only acomprehensive program tailored to the individual works.
Myth 5: No symptoms, no stress.Absence of symptoms does not mean the absence of stress. In fact, camouflaging symptomswith medication may deprive you of the signals you need for reducing the strain on yourphysiological and psychological systems.Myth 6: Only major symptoms of stress require attention.This myth assumes that the "minor" symptoms, such as headaches or stomach acid, may besafely ignored. Minor symptoms of stress are the early warnings that your life is getting outof hand and that you need to do a better job of managing stress. STRESS AND GENDER Does stress tend to affect the male of the species more than the female? Opinionsvary, since there are differentiating factors between the sexes. All parameters being equal,however, the preponderant view is that women are more adept at handling stress, thanks tobetter coping mechanisms.EFFECTS OF STRESS The human body’s reaction to stress is natural. It results from the need to resist astressful situation. For example, when a person is nervous, there is an increase in his/herpulse rate. This is a ‘fight or flight’ response. However, things can go out of control if toomuch stress is present. The person can have a heart attack or a nervous breakdown. Toomuch of stress can tell upon a person’s health. If neglected, it can lead to serious healthdisorders at a later stage. Stress has both physical and psychological effects on an individual.(Refer Exhibit 1 to find out the effects of stress on an individual.)
Exhibit 1 Effects of Stress on an Individual Physical Effects : [ - Increased heart rate and blood pressure - Sudden increase or decrease in weight (change in appetite) - Frequent headaches, fatigue, and respiratory Problems - Nervous weakness ( biting nails, too much sweating) - Insomnia - Reduced immunity to common colds and flu - Ulcers and weak digestive system Psychological Affects : - Difficulty in concentrating - Unable to spend leisure time productively - Always anxious - Bad decision making - Mood swings - Increased usage of food, cigarettes, alcohol and drugs - Developing fears and phobias - Feeling out of control and confused
STRATEGIES FOR COPING WITH STRESS After understanding the sources of stress and the effects of stress on individuals, let usdiscuss some strategies to fight stress. Strategies to Fight Stress Some of the important strategies for managers to fight stress are prioritizing anddelegating work, laughing a lot, exercising regularly, practicing relaxation techniques,maintaining a good balanced diet, and having a good night’s sleep. Prioritize work Multi-tasking is the buzzword these days. An individual requires special skills toperform multiple tasks simultaneously. One way to minimize stress while multi-tasking is toplan, prioritize, and perform. Planning involves preparing a list of activities that need to beperformed. This involves considering the time factor. Prioritizing involves ranking theactivities based on their importance and performing these activities in that order. Prioritizingactivities each day is the simplest way to tackle stress. The next step is to schedule time fortasks depending on the priorities. For instance, a person may have to attend a communitymeeting and an official party. He/she may schedule time for both activities by attending theofficial party first and then the community meeting. Delegate work Some individuals prefer doing all the work themselves. This adds to their stress. Theyshould learn to delegate routine work to others. For instance, a manager can delegate thework of preparing a report on a project to a subordinate.
Laughter Laughter is a good de-stressor. An individual can relax and de-stress by watching ahumorous movie, reading comics, etc. A sense of humor allows an individual to perceive andappreciate the imbalances of life and provides moments of delight. ‘A day without laughter is a day wasted for life’. This is very true. Laughter is the bestoutlet for stress. It is a great stress buster. Laughter is a no cost, no side effect medicine. Aperson with a sense of humor is less likely to be under stress. A sense of humor allows anindividual to perceive and appreciate the imbalances of life and provides moments ofdelight. Exercise Exercise is another good stress-buster. It keeps an individual physically and mentallyalert. When a person is nervous, tense, or angry, exercise is the best outlet for giving vents tohis/her emotions. Regular exercise lowers blood pressure, lowers pulse rate, boosts bloodcirculation in the body, increases artery suppleness, lowers cholesterol, and reduces fatigueand tension. These benefits help an individual to tackle the physiological changes that occurduring stress. Exercise should increase blood circulation to the heart. Relaxation The best strategy to reduce stress is to relax. Relaxation is not being idle. It is doingwhat one wants to do, rather than what one should do. It is very important for a person toschedule some time for relaxation. This relaxation time should disconnect the person fromall his/her tensions, worries. This is the time when the person rebuilds his/her energy levels.Relaxation techniques vary from person to person.
Diet A good balanced diet plays a vital role in reducing stress. A person tends to neglectdiet when under stress. This may lead to overeating or under-eating. This improper eatingresults in a weak immune system and creates health problems. A well-balanced meal that iseaten on time is very important to minimize stress. Sleep Sleep is a weapon. During sleep, a person prepares himself/herself to face another day.Stress makes a person sleepless or very sleepy. A stressed person may feel sleepy throughoutthe day and awake during nights. On an average, everyone needs at least 7-8 hours of sleepper day. Some may need more sleep or some less. After a good night’s sleep, a person feelsfresh. An individual must adopt a bedtime routine that induces sleep like reading a book thatis soothing, and listening to music that is relaxing. One must go to bed at the same timeevery day. Meditation Meditation is one of the most effective techniques in reducing and avoiding stress.Regular meditation helps in stress reduction. It • enables one to control the thought process • enables one to take effective decisions • helps in physical and mental relaxation • Improves concentration Meditation is a technique to achieve a thoughtless or mindless state. In this state, aperson has no thoughts. This kind of state thus acts a stress reliever and a great rejuvenator.
Yoga Yoga is another important stress reliever. Yoga has been tried and tested since ancienttimes. According to Patanjali Maharishi, yoga is the cessation of mind. It is a state of no-mind. Yoga is not for bodybuilding. It simply focuses on gentle postures that improvecirculation of blood to vital parts of the body. The increase in blood circulation rejuvenatesthe organs and releases stress. Maintaining work-life balance Work-life balance means a harmonious balance of work and domestic life. It allows anemployee to fulfill all the roles in his/her life effectively and efficiently. Researches haveproved that employees are at their best when they are contented and motivated both at workand at home. Achieving a work-life balance is not as easy as it seems. In the corporate world, changeis constant and imminent. The impact of globalization has further fuelled these changes. Thecorporate world signifies uncertainties, too many responsibilities, and long work hours.These changes in the environment disturb the balance between domestic and work-life ofemployees. The increasing competition and demands of society further aggravate thesituation. All this adds up to stress. Importance of Work-life balance The corporate world is realizing the importance of the work-life balance. Companiesare realizing the fact that the work-life balance of employees has a direct effect on theproductivity of their organizations. Exhibit 5 explains the various practices that companiesfollow to maintain work-life balance.
The importance of work-life balance is due to the following reasons:Changing social scene: In today’s world, maintaining work-life balance is the greatest challenge employees’face. Employees have realized that their personal lives have an effect on their work life.Hence, they are striving hard to maintain the balance.Changing work culture: There is a shift in the organizational work culture. Today’s work culture providesflexible work hours, focus on results, and recognition of achievements. However, this hasmade the workplace even more competitive as employees are expected to always give theirbest, and this leads to stress.Increased work time: With globalization, organizations are working 365 days, 24 hours, and 7 days a weekirrespective of time zones. Businesses are focusing more and more on customer care. Withthe coming of call centers, this focus has doubled. The technology has added to the speed ofwork but the workload remains the same.Dual income families: The shift in attitudes, work styles, and cultures has disturbed the work-life balance.Working mothers have major responsibilities of managing both home and work place. Thismakes it all the more important for them to balance work and life. Organizations are helpingwomen by providing facilities like work from home, day care etc.
Benefits of Work-life Balance Achieving a work-life balance benefits both employers and employees. While theemployers get the benefit of productive and active employees, the employees feel secure andloyal. It also improves confidence, concentration, self-esteem, and loyalty among theemployees. The concept of work-life balance is still fresh in India. Indian IT companies areprobably the first ones to provide a fun-work environment. Some companies are nowinvesting in recreational facilities at the worksite.Steps to achieve work-life balance: To build up an awareness of the importance of work-life balance in employees,companies should conduct regular workshops and programs on work-life balance.The following measures have to be taken by employers:• Discourage employees from working late• Take a regular employee satisfaction survey that can identify the pitfalls in the work pattern• Provide vacations and encourage employees to take breaks• Provide opportunities like work from home, flexi times
STRESS MANAGEMENT Every one wants stress-free life. Yet, stress is ubiquitous. Of course, it cannot becontrolled by more nutrients as the real cause of stress is anxiety or pressure which mayultimately lead to the neglect or proper dietary habits. Stress refers to the “circumstances thatthreaten one’s well being and thereby tax one’s coping abilities”. Stress is inevitable part of modern life. Like Janus, stress has two faces. It is a goodservant, but a bad master. In other words, it can be one’s best friend or worst enemy. Acertain amount of stress is necessary to achieve success. But, undue stress causes distress. Stress is received by different people differently. If two people experience the sameamount or pressure, one may be healthy while the other is sick. This is so because ourpersonalities do influence the level of stress. The present day’s lifestyle breeds stress andtension. When tension lasts long, depression sets in. According to Dr. Raw Baum, a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvanian bioenergetics analyst andstress educator, “Stress is our body’s bio-chemical reaction to how we live our lives. Stresscan develop into distress and disease through your personal adaptations to internal andexternal environments.” Stress is the body’s reaction to the external demands placed upon it by theenvironment. Stress can be either good or bad. Good stress creates the necessary excitementto perform an activity. This type of stress is temporary and has no long-term effects on thebody. Bad stress creates an alarming reaction in the body. It affects the body’s immunesystem and has detrimental affects on the body over a period. There are many sources of stress for an individual. It can be family, friends, workplace,superiors, and colleagues. The sources of stress for an individual should be identified. Theeffects of stress may include minor symptoms like headache, irritability, loss ofconcentration, loss of appetite to major symptoms like insomnia, amnesia, heart attack,ulcers etc. Stress should be identified and treated in the early stages or it could result in aburnout. A severe case or neglected case of stress leads to burnout. Exercise, diet, and restplay a vital role in stress handling. A healthy person is better at handling stressful situationsthan an unhealthy person.
A working person should learn to balance work and personal life to lead a happy life.This work- life balance can be achieved by giving importance to both work and personal life.Organizations should help their employees achieve work-life balance, as this has an effect onthe productivity of the organizations. Spirituality at the workplace has become a necessity in today’s world. The practice ofspirituality at the workplace enables an individual to deal with stressful situations. Itprovides an individual with the strength to face unforeseen situations without panic.Spirituality helps a manager to deal with stress internally instead of looking for externalsolutions.Action PointsManagers should: • Identify sources of stress and their effects on you. • Adopt a de-stressing routine like going for a solitary walk at the end of the day. • Spend time with family, friends. • Make time for vacations. • Practice relaxation methods like deep breathing, meditation, and yoga. • Sleep for at least 6-8 hours. • Plan, prioritize, and delegate work. • Try to maintain a work-life balance.Managers should not: • Ignore symptoms like frequent headaches, coughs, and colds. • Take on too may responsibilities or demands that are outside your capabilities. • Use drugs, tobacco, alcohol to handle stress. • Use self-medication. • Wait for deadlines to approach. • Set unrealistic goals.
STRESS AT WORKPLACE“Job stress is a consequence of two key ingredients: a high level of job demands andlittle control over one’s work.” -PAUL FROILAND.WHATS IT? In this difficult economy, you may find it harder than ever to cope with challenges onthe job. Both the stress we take with us when we go to work and the stress that awaits us onthe job are on the rise – and employers, managers, and workers all feel the added pressure.While some stress is a normal part of life, excessive stress interferes with your productivityand reduces your physical and emotional health, so it’s important to find ways to keep itunder control. Fortunately, there is a lot that you can do to manage and reduce stress at work.
CALL CENTERS Call center is a generalized term that embraces a number of activities like reservationcenters, help desks, information lines or customer service centers, irrespective of how theyare organized or what types of transactions they handle. Call center is generally referred to arefined voice operations setting that provides a full range of high-volume, inbound oroutbound call-handling services, including customer support, operator services, directoryassistance, multilingual customer support, credit services, card services, inbound andoutbound telemarketing, interactive voice response and web-based services. Call centers are becoming increasingly popular in todays business, where manycompanies have centralized customer service and support functions. Call centers aregenerally large offices with representatives who either make or receive phone calls.Depending on the type of work, call centers may have a single office employing a fewpeople or large office with thousands of employees. The main activity in some call centers isanswering inbound calls, such as a bank that gives out a toll-free number for customersneeding help. At the same time there are some call centers that focus on outbound calls too. With increase in outsourcing, call centers are also becoming popular. By way ofoutsourcing, companies contract out some functions to other companies located mostly incost effective destinations like India. In this field India enjoys several advantages over anumber of developed counties. In India, we a have large pool of qualified people; Englishspeaking graduates and IT professionals. In addition to this India have some otheradvantages like cheap labor, flexibility in working hours and time zone difference. This isthe reason why a number of MNCs are outsourcing their business activities to India. Call centres are comparatively a recent introduction to the world of career options inIndia. The career avenues provided by Call centres is one of the best suited and growingoption which even a fresher can opt for. With the opening up of the Indian economy and theadvent of globalisation more and more companies from abroad are basing or outsourcingtheir call centre services to India, a trend started by GE when it established a call centre nearNew Delhi in 1998.
A call centre is a service centre with adequate telecom facilities, access to internetand wide database, which provide voice based or web-based information and support tocustomers in the country or abroad through trained personnel. Call centres exist in all sectorsof business including banking, utilities, manufacturing, security, market research,pharmaceuticals, catalogue sales, order desk, customer service, technical queries (help desk),emergency dispatch, credit collections, food service, airline/hotel reservations etc. The widearea of services provided by the call centres makes it a lucrative career with a range ofopportunities.
UNDERSTANDING - THE CALL CENTER “INDUSTRY” There has been some dispute amongst researchers as to whether it is appropriate torefer to such a thing as the “call center industry”. As Bain and Taylor point out, “despitesimilarities in the integration of computer and telephone technologies, centers differ inrelation to a number of important variables—size, industrial sector and market, complexityand length of call cycle time, nature of operations (inbound, outbound or combined), thenature and effectiveness of representative institutions including trade unions, andmanagement styles and priorities”. To this list of variables, Callaghan and Thompson wouldadd the “degree of product complexity and variability and the depth of knowledge requiredto deal with the service interaction”. Bain and Taylor argue that it is more appropriate to usethe term “sector”, as call Centers are found across a wide range of industries and may besimilar primarily in terms of their core technologies. They do note, however, that there is aprofessional literature and a collective identity that is maintained and developed throughconferences and forums. Belt, Richardson and Webster (2000) agree that call centers are notan industry as the term is generally defined, but rather represent certain ways of deliveringvarious services using the telephone and computer technologies across traditional industryboundaries. However, these authors provide three strong reasons defending the practice ofreferring to call centers as an industry: First, the call center community often defines itself as an industry, with numerousnational and international call center conferences and workshops taking place each year,industry journals and call center forums organized at local levels. Second, the labor force requirements of call centers are often the same across sectors.This means that many, though not all, call centers share a common labor pool.Third, the organizational templates and technologies used tend to be very similar, regardlessof the sector. To this one might add the remarkable similarities that international researchers havefound between technologies used, work practices and key issues including monitoring,control, training, and labor demographics for workers in countries as diverse as Germany,Japan, Australia, Greece, Canada, the US, the UK and the Netherlands.
STRESS IN CALL CENTERS Stress exists in every call center. Call centers are stressful work environments. Thedemands of serving the customer in real-time helps to lay the foundation. Add to this factorthings such as job repetition, potential job dissatisfaction, poor ergonomics or low pay andthe stress level climbs higher. If stress in the workplace (i.e. the call center) is not on the agenda the results of stressare revealed through higher absenteeism than other parts of the company, higher WorkersCompensation claims and ultimately in reduced customer satisfaction. This Operations Topic focuses on various approaches to managing stress. Raising thepay isnt necessarily the solution. There are many other creative means of managing stress inyour call center. • Factors that Create a Stressful Call Center • Emotional Labor • Stress Levels, Staff Turnover and Some Suggested Solutions • Customer Centric Attitude and StressRecommended Solutions to Solving Stress in the Call Center • Involve Front Line Staff in Creating Solutions • Attention to Ergonomic Factors Helps Reduce Stress • Develop an Internal Ergonomic Program • Employee Assistance Programs Can Contribute • Consider Massage Therapy Services or Yoga As Possible Solutions Resources • Wake Up Your Call Center: Humanizing Your Interaction Hub • Managing Workplace Chaos: Workplace Solutions for Managing Information, Paper, Time and Stress
• Tele-Stress - Relief For Call Center Stress Syndrome HUMAN ISSUES IN CALL-CENTER INDUSTRY[ STRESS For many employed in call center sector, “ daily experience is of repetitive, intensiveand stressful work, based upon Taylorist principles, which frequently results in employee“burnout”. Brown characterizes work as “repetitive brain strain”. These descriptions arehardly surprising, in a way, given that call centers are established by organizations to “createan environment in which work can be standardized to create relatively uniform andrepetitious activities so as to achieve economies of scale and consistent quality of customerservice”. In other words, that workplaces are organized in ways that weaken employeeautonomy and enhance potential for management control, and “a loss of control is generallyunderstood to be an important indicator of work-related stress”. There is almost universal consensus that call center work is stressful. Even in studiesthat report the observation that some staff actually enjoys their work, mention of stress isstill the norm, and a significant portion of the call center literature is devoted to detailing thesources of stress in call center work.FOUR KEY STRESSORS- ‘Can we get off the phone for a while?’ The primary source of stress reported is inherent to the nature of the job: spending allday on the phone dealing with people one after another, day after day, is difficult. Doing itunder constant pressure to keep call volumes up, with no time between calls to “recoverfrom an awkward call or from ‘customer rejection’” is even more difficult. And doing it with“very little authority or autonomy to rectify problems” that arise is perhaps the most difficultof all. Many studies report agents as wanting to ‘just get off the phones’. For example, Beltand colleagues note “agents in all three sectors [financial services, IT, and third-partyservices] spoke of the phenomenon of ‘burnout’, caused by the pressure of workingexclusively ‘on the phones’”. In the same study, the authors mention that the issue of‘burnout’ was also recognized by some managers: “It was pointed out that managers face an
inherent conflict between the need to reduce staff boredom and labor turnover, and thepressure to concentrate staff energies on telephone based work”. “The question of how call center employees deal with stress is an important one,particularly in view of evidence that a build-up of stress leads to illness, absenteeism andturnover,” writes Houlihan. Many authors agree, and there are a variety of individual copingmechanisms described in the literature. Tricks to circumvent control mechanisms, such asthose discussed above are sometimes mentioned as attempts at stress reduction, althoughthey are unreliable in this role as they may also increase stress. Others mention social interaction squeezed into brief moments--Callaghan andThompson describe agents using humorous (or rude) gestures towards the phone, or makingfaces at colleagues to defuse stress over angry or abusive callers, and making jokes tocombat the tedium of the day. Lankshear and Mason describe a similarly social approach toreducing tension in one of the sites they observed, where staff often laughed and joked withone another in intervals between calls, with management’s approval. More formally, somecall centers include stress management as a component in training programs, and many have,or claim to have, team de-briefings which permit staff to vent frustrations while discussingdifficult calls or dissatisfactions with elements of work. Knights and McCabe take a different approach to stress in the workplace. They notethat although much organizational analysis and most of the call center literature tends toconceptualize stress as an individual problem, it is actually located within “a framework thatemphasizes the interrelationships between structural relations of power and the subjectiveinterpretations and actions of employees”. This more nuance positioning may provide moreinsight into call center conditions, as it allows a researcher to consider the response ofemployees “forced to interpret the often contradictory demands management place uponthem” including “contradictions…over service quality versus the quantity of work output”.“Clearly,” these authors write, “staffs face some fundamental contradictions over unityversus conflict, uncertainty versus certainty, quality versus quantity and these are at the heartof the reproduction of stress, resistance and control”. This focus on the “contradictory”
nature of demands strikes at the heart of the second inherent sources of stress in (primarilyinbound) call center works: the quality/quantity conflict.QUALITY/QUANTITY CONFLICT Typically, organizational rhetoric in inbound call centers is concerned with ‘customercare’, or ‘keeping customers happy’ (providing quality service), yet these goals arejuxtaposed with an ongoing pressure to keep call times down and call volumes up. Callcenters are rooted in contradictory tensions and structural paradoxes, and confront a numberof trades-offs on that basis. These set a context for attitudes towards the organization and canimpose conflicting role requirements on agents. A core example is that of the pressure forquantity versus the aspiration for quality, the guiding logic of which is the conundrum oftrying to get closer to the customer while routinising, centralizing, reducing costs andprescribing standards. The dichotomy is not completely straightforward, it is important to note. Part ofproviding quality service from a management perspective is making sure customers do notwait too long for their calls to be answered, even though the push to keep queue waitingtimes short is typically categorized as part of the pressure towards quantity. As Bain pointsout, “efforts to attain what is perceived to be the desired balance between the quantity andthe quality of calls presents a perennial challenge”. The practice of ongoing work practice modification and target revision asmanagement swings from one side to another of the quality/quantity debate is a major sourceof stress for call center agents. As Houlihan notes: “The practice of putting a ‘drive’ onparticular targets for improvement (for example, the collection of renewal dates, the up-selling or cross-selling of products, the quality of data input, or the intensity of sales push)and continual reprioritisation means that the ‘goalposts’ are constantly shifting”. Virtually allof the call center authors who write about work conditions mention the difficulty of dealingwith these competing goals. Korczynski and colleagues suggest that this dilemma isparticularly difficult for front-line workers because they may be likely “to identify withembodied individual customers, for interactions with specific customers may be animportant arena for meaning and satisfaction within the work”. They contrast this customer-as-individual orientation to the managerial goal of balancing customer orientation with
efficiency, which they suggest leads management to prefer workers to identify with a genericcategory, ‘the customer’, since “such a disembodied image of the customer will encourageworkers to deal with individual customers efficiently because they will be conscious of theconcerns of other customers waiting in a queue”.INTENSITY The third central stressor in call center work is its intensity. As Bain (2001) argues,“far from being either in terminal decline or on the wane, Taylorism—in conjunction with arange of other control mechanisms—is not only alive, well and deeply embedded in the callcenter labour process, but its malevolent influence appears to be spreading to previouslyuncharted territory”. There is widespread consensus that “call centers are a new, andparticularly effective, manifestation of the increasingly capital intensive ‘industrialization’ ofservice sector work, and work performed in them is highly intensive and routine”. Buchanan and Koch-Schulte quote one call center worker who describes the constantpressure graphically:Ellen: It’s almost like the army. It’s much regimented. You punch in with a time clock.You come in and you sit down, and the numbers are all computerized. As soon as you finisha call, the minute you hang up another call comes up just this constant, all day, repetitious…constant sort of like beating on a drum, but day after day. The pace of work is determined by the combination of technologies that deliver callsto the headset and account details to the screen, and workers often have no control over thisprocess. Descriptions such as “exhausting,” “robotic,” “controlled,” and agents discussing thenature of their work often use “machine-like”. Houlihan expands on the idea of controlled,machine-like agents by suggesting that this is in fact exactly the way that the organizationconceives of them: Call centers are information handling organizations. As currently characterized, thejob of the agent is to be the voice of the organization, interfacing with the client or customer.
The organization rehearses the things it wants said and feeds them through the agent. Theagent is largely constructed as a mouthpiece rather than as a brain. Buchanan and Koch-Schulte spoke with a call-center worker who articulated herfeelings about the organization’s expectations of its agents in very similar terms:Rosa: You are standing waiting to be used by the technology, and it’s a physicalembodiment of that. You are standing, waiting until that call comes in to use you to makemoney. And you are simply another part of that machine. When this feeling of being a cog in a machine which never stops as it grinds on,repeating the same actions over and over again, is combined with “the cumulative emotionaldemands presented by the interpersonal nature of the work”, stress is inevitable.Targets There is a fourth feature of some call center work that may engender stress:performance targets. There are various types of targets, which may vary between inboundand outbound centers. Inbound centers typically have targets for call duration, ‘wrap time’,and daily call volume. Outbound centers often also have sales or ‘completion’ targets, whichare closely monitored and upon which pay may be partially based. In addition, in somesectors, inbound call centers are attempting to introduce the practice of cross selling, whereagents attempt to sell additional products to the customers who call in for another purpose.In these centers, sales targets similar to those in outbound centers are often in place. Taylor and Bain argue that particularly in the financial services industry in the UK,targets are a significant source of stress for workers as more and more importance is placedupon meeting them in an increasingly competitive business environment. Sales targets, inparticular, are difficult to accept, or meet, for staff who often consider themselves as servicepersonnel, particularly when they are set centrally and implemented locally: “Cross-selling is seen by employees, not as an opportunity to engage in creativework, but as an additional and acute source of pressure”. This is especially the case when
sales targets are parachuted in on top of service targets set originally when there was nopressure to produce sales. As a CSR in Taylor and Bain’s study emphasizes: “When somebody phones in for abalance you have to try to get a sale or get them interested as well as turning the call roundin 155 seconds”. Even in centers that claim not to prioritize targets, researchers have found that staffoften feels significant pressure. Targets simply intensify the stress produced by the quantity/quality debate, or, as one agent is quoted as saying, “They say that they’re not reallyinterested in numbers. They say that they are more into quality. Well, that’s a lie. They’reusually more into numbers than anything”. It is important not to over generalize however.While most call centers do have some targets, they are a source of stress that is directlyunder management control. Some call centers are managed in such a way that targets are setto realistically reflect local conditions, are interpreted in light of other, more subjectiveinformation, and are not used punitively or to intensify work. In some they are even usedeffectively to motivate and encourage staff. For example, Lankshear and Mason describe aseries of conversations with managers in their call center site where managementconsistently conceptualized their performance reports (for example, one commented that it’s‘human nature’ for productivity to drop before and after a holiday), and used their stats as anexcuse to praise good performance and coach those who consistently had difficulty meetingtargets: “Our best bet is to develop the people we have got” one manager is quoted as saying.Other Health issues… The result of intense, stressful work may be an effect on workers’ health. There areoften high rates of absenteeism and sick leave reported in the literature, although there isrelatively little exploration of these issues, particularly when compared to turnover. Mostoften, authors provide a brief list of known health issues. For example, Richardson, Belt andMarshall write that “Health concerns have been expressed, including tension, sleeplessness,headaches, eye-strain, repetitive strain injury (RSI), voice loss, hearing problems and burn-out”, but they do not develop the point. More detailed descriptions of the causes and effectsof these ailments can be found in industry and trades union reports. For example, the TradesUnion Council (TUC) in its brochure targeted at call center workers, cites the main illnesses
to which call center staff are prone: “back strain and RSI, stress, eyestrain, and voice andhearing loss”. Also in the UK, regulators have been proactive in their examination of the industry,with the Health and Safety Executive issuing a bulletin on call center regulations, healthrisks and best practices in December 2001. They looked specifically at health issuesincluding stress, noise levels, musculoskeletal disorders (such as back problems) and voiceloss, and also at display screen issues, working environments, requirements for workstations, daily work routines, training, organizational working practices and shifts.Sleeping Disorders : No prizes for guessing the most severe ailment afflicting people working in Indiancall centers. Since this is a unique Indian problem, again, no solution appears in sight.Obviously this affects first timers more severely, as they take time to acclimatize theirbiological clocks, but even experienced people or managers are not able to completelyescape from it. Some call centers are looking at devising innovative mechanisms likeflexible shifts with sleeping arrangements in the office premises as possible solutions.Digestive System Related Disorders: Working long and odd hours without any sleep, and eating food supplied by externalcaterers everyday, has led to 41.9% of the respondents suffering from digestive problems.Especially for the large number of girls working in the industry, the problem is even moresevere. Many call centers are now taking additional care to ensure their caterers supplyhygienic food; besides stipulating strict conditions to maintain the quality of the food theyserve.[ Depression: In last years survey, this was not among the top disorders, but this year it hasclimbed up the chart, affecting nearly one-fourth of the respondents. Not surprising, since, asthe industry matures, the initial glitz and glamour wears away and the real problems come tothe fore. Not only are there several health related issues, but, on top of that, the gradualrealization that there is limited scope in developing a career owing to fewer growthopportunities is increasing the frustration levels. Coupled with growing mental fatigue and
increasingly punishing physical environments, depression is the obvious end result. Somecall centers have now devised different stress management programs mainly to counterdepression. Severe Stomach Related ProblemsContinuing digestive problems lead to severestomach disorders like gastroenteritis, as endorsed by more than 24% of the respondents.Even doctors in major cities agree-in recent times many of the patients with various stomachailments are from call centers.Eyesight Problems: Globally call center industry employees are considered a high-risk group for eye-related problems. While the quality of monitors might impact these disorders, sittingcontinually without adequate breaks seems to be the truer reason. The number of peopleaffected seems to be on the rise-last year only 19% complained; this year it has gone up to23%. At some point of time, this problem might also afflict the IT services industry, but forthe call center industry, no remedy seems to be in sight.Ear Problems: More than 16% of the respondents inform that they have hearing problems. Again, nosurprises here, since a call center job involves taking calls throughout the shift, sitting withheadphones. While quality of headphones does make a difference, it would not be correct tocompletely wish the problem away by thinking that changing headphones will solve it.Some other Human Issues, in Call-Centers, which need ImmediateAttention Personal habits: The young executives are getting more than five figure salaries per month in an earlyage. They tend to develop certain bad habits such as alcohol, smoking etc. It is not easy toidentify such individuals. It is also very sensitive to talk to them. The professionalcounselors can conduct group-counseling, workshops, educative film shows in order tocreate awareness on effects of bad habits. Such actions will enable individuals to realize the
importance of good habits and they could seek one to one Counseling sessions to solve theirproblems.Discipline and behavioral issues: Call centers provide excellent working environment, free food and transportation.There is always a situation where individual or group of youngsters tend to commit mistakesand abuse the freedom. They start behaving like in college campus where they have morefreedom. However, the call center executives have more responsibility and accountability,they need to follow discipline and do well in the job. The most common behavior is misuseof food, behave erratically in vans, and smoke in public places, misuse of telephones andother resources of the company. The supervisors always concentrate on performance andachieving targets. They do not have time or interest to go deep into these matters and findout the reasons for such behavior. The professional counselor can play a major role ineducating the youngsters on discipline; provide advice to erring executives. The counselorswith their wisdom and experience can tackle such issues tactfully and bring change withinthe individuals. As said earlier, to majority of them this is the first employment and they arefresh out of the colleges. Few tend to behave differently and they have the “do not care”attitude. Such executives will not take their job seriously, they indulge in teasing, and joking,talking over mobile phones, have friction within the team. These aspects may go noticed orunnoticed by the supervisors. The fact remains that such unacceptable behaviors will causedisturbance to others and overall it affects the productivity. Sleeping while on duty, readingnovels and playing games on the computer during working hours brings down productivityand quality suffers. The HR representatives and professional counselors jointly have a role tobring behavioral change starting from the training days. Continuous education andCounseling will help to mitigate such problems and it is possible to prevent seriousproblems.Inter-personal relationship and friendship: Executives develop friendship quickly and sometime the friendship breaks and therewill be misunderstanding among the team members and naturally affects the teamperformance. The supervisors and counselors can play a major role to sort out theinterpersonal relationship and develop team spirit. Healthy relationship among the team
members has always helped the team to out perform. When the relationship fails theindividuals will also break down mentally. They either absent for duties or fall ill or theperformance will come down. It is also true that due to misunderstanding and break infriendship they change jobs quickly.Love affair and marriages: Few of the boys and girls fall in love quickly. They maintain the healthy relationship,behave in a matured manner, plan the future course of action and such persons have gotmarried with the consent of their parents. They work together in the same organization forlonger duration. There are instances, where lovers fall apart, start disliking, creating troublesto each other and vitiating the atmosphere. They are immature, take instant decisions tobreak or unite and sometimes go to an extent of damaging others reputation. Theprofessional counselors can play an important role in explaining the importance of marriage,preparation required for marriage, how to enter the institution of marriage, which isacceptable to both parents and society and about the new role and responsibility after gettingmarried. Counseling services can definitely give emotional support to individuals.Absenteeism: Absenteeism is very high in calls centers. Employees tend to be very irregular to theduty due to various reasons. Professional counseling services to such irregular employees onone to one basis will help to bring down absenteeism. Counselor can educate and explain theimportance of attending duties to earn salary and also to meet organizational goals. Eachindividual are unique and the problem they face are also different in nature. Professionalcounselors can understand, analyze and provide long lasting solutions for the individuals.Higher education and part time jobs: It is possible to do higher education while working in BPO units. Few organizationsencourage and offer support services to pursue higher education. However, timemanagement by the executives is crucial to go forward in education as well as to maintainperformance and career growth. Programmes on time management, tips to study, tips to keepfit and such other programmes can be offered. These steps would help to seek the loyalty ofemployees to organizations and helps greatly for retention of employees. Organizations donot grant permission to pursue part time jobs while working in BPO units. In order to makequick money and to have options open to change jobs in future will drive employees to do
part time work. Human body does not permit to stretch beyond one’s capacity. Executivesneed to take sufficient rest in daytime so that energy levels are maintained. Either due to lackof experience or due to compulsions, executives keep their one feet in call center and anotherin part time jobs. In the long run this would affect individuals health. The HR executivesmust identify such persons and offer professional Counseling services to them.REMEDIAL MEASURES FOR STRESS MANAGEMENT Understanding that the “Stress” is a major concern for all Call-Center Employees, itis a duty of HR-heads of Call-Centers to address it properly.Some of the common signs and symptoms of stress Although we all experience stress in different ways, there are certain signs that aremost frequently reported. These signs fall into two major categories; physical/behavioralsigns and emotional signs. If we become aware of our own stress symptoms, we will bemore effective in dealing with them sooner rather than later. What follows is a list of someof the most experienced symptoms of stress. The physical/behavioral symptoms include; muscular tension, muscle spasms andtics, rapid heart beat, shortness of breath and high blood pressure, cold hands and feet,backaches, headaches and neck aches, stomach problems, indigestion, irritable bowel andulcers, feeling fatigued, irritable, decreased ability to concentrate, insomnia and changes ineating behavior. Since these physical symptoms may be related to physical problems, youshould consult with your medical doctor before you assume that your symptoms are purelystress-related. The emotional symptoms include; anxiety in a variety of situations not limited to thestressful situation, depression, hopelessness and a strong urge to cry without specificincident, withdrawal from social interactions and avoidance of previously enjoyed activities,powerlessness and decreased self esteem, hostility, anger and resentment, fears, phobias andunwanted thoughts. Learning to become more aware of your own stress symptoms is the first major stepin the stress management and healing process. It is often helpful to monitor your dailysymptoms in a stress diary where you match the stressful events with the symptom
experienced. For example; you made find that if you are stuck in early morning traffic youmay experience irritability and headaches. In this case it will be important to use thesesymptoms as a cue that you have to begin managing that stress more effectively when ithappens.What are the consequences of unmanaged stress? We all know that stress is something that doesn’t feel good to us physically andemotionally. What is even more compelling is what happens below the surface each time weexperience stress. Stress researcher Hans Selye, determined what happens internally eachtime we experience something as threatening or stressful. According to Selye, when weperceive a threat in the environment the thinking part of the brain sends an alarm message tothe nervous system via the hypothalamus. The nervous system then makes changes in thebody that prepare you to handle the perceived danger ahead. These changes includeincreases in heart rate and blood pressure as well as pupil dilation. In addition, there arehormones and chemicals secreted such as adrenaline, that give the body the necessary pushto be able to manage the threat ahead. Although there are situations in which these adrenaline surges are very helpful inhelping us mobilize, the constant adrenaline surges due to repeatedly perceived threats, havea toxic effect on the body. For example, recurrent adrenaline surges inhibit some of the otherimportant functions in the body including growth and tissue repair, digestion and theimmune response. Just as the thinking part of your brain is responsible for turning the stressresponse on, you can turn it off by changing the threatening appraisals you are making. Onceyou are able to determine that a threat does not exist or that it can be effectively managed,your thinking brain stops sending panic messages to the nervous system. As a result of thisreappraisal, the hormones and chemicals cease to be released and the body returns to normal. Bringing the body back to an "un-stressed" state is very important since almost everysystem in the body can be damaged by stress. Although our bodies are adaptive and canrecover from periodic stressors, chronic stress has serious consequences. We experience theconsequences of stress on three important levels; physically, emotionally and behaviorally.What follows is a description of the specific consequences in these three categories.
Physically, the body is likely to develop a stress-related disease as a result of thestress toxins that are released. For example, chronic stress can lead to cardiovascular diseaseby elevating blood pressure, damaging the heart and arteries and increasing blood sugar.Respiratory conditions such as asthma and bronchitis can result from stress-triggeredchanges in the lungs. When stress inhibits the body’s digestive functions, diseases such as ulcers, colitisand chronic diarrhea can occur. In addition, stress contributes to inhibited growth of tissueand bone which can lead to decalcification and osteoporosis. The immune system is alsoinhibited by the reduced efficiency of the white blood cells, making the body moresusceptible to disease. Increased muscle tension, fatigue and headaches are additionalconsequences of chronic stress.The second category of consequences of chronic stress is the emotional consequences. Depression can result form chronic stress due to the constant release and depletion ofnorepinephrine. What also contributes to the depression is the thought that life is terrible andthat it is never going to get better. What then results is a feeling of helplessness andineffectiveness, feeling like a failure and a reduction in self-confidence. Individuals who aredepressed are also likely to withdraw from relationships and isolate themselves which oftenincreases the intensity of the depression. In addition, anxiety and fearfulness are commonlyfelt emotions if someone constantly perceives threats around the corner. In addition,individuals who are chronically stressed are likely to exhibit increased cynicism, rigidity,sarcasm and irritability since they believe that their situation is not likely to improve.Chronic stress also has significant behavioral consequences. Behavioral consequences oftenresult from innate survival urge we have to seek relief, to fight or to flee. Unfortunately,these relief-seeking behaviors eventually become problematic. For example, "addictivebehaviors" can result from the repeated efforts to soothe or escape the painful stress.Alcohol, drugs, smoking and overeating are often seen as tools to help manage the stresseven though their effects are short lived and the consequences of chronic use are destructiveto the body and mind. Unfortunately the mind’s ability to deny the long-term consequencesin order to fill short-term need to escape perpetuates the problem and increases excessive usebehavior. Similarly, procrastination, poor planning, excessive sleeping and avoidance ofresponsibility are examples of behaviors used by stressed individuals to temporarily fleefrom the pain. What is most significant about these behaviors is their ability to generate
additional problems that are as severe as the original stressor. For example, procrastinationor avoidance of the management of a stressor only serves to increase anxiety and exacerbatethe stress experience. Stress consequences reviewed above suggest that in addition to beingphysically and psychologically distressing, they reduce the likelihood of effective goalreaching. Rationale for properly managing and coping with the stress is for health protectionin future as well as making present more productive and satisfying.MANAGING STRESS Since stress is an inevitable fact of life that we can’t always prevent, our efforts needto be focused on coping with stress more effectively. What follows is a description of a threepronged approach to stress management which includes behavioral/practical techniques,relaxation techniques and cognitive/thinking techniques. The behavioral/practical approaches to stress management include exercise andeating a healthy, balanced diet, which includes selections from the basic food groups. Inaddition, it is recommended that one avoid the excessive use of alcohol, caffeine and sugar,which contribute to fatigue and vulnerability to mood swings. It is also important to allowthe body to rest and replenish to help inoculate the body against future stress. Building thisstress resistance also includes scheduling time for leisure and pleasure, which provides for amore balanced, fulfilling life. Anticipating and preparing for recurrent stressors by managingtime, setting priorities and limits, delegating responsibility, and not procrastinating arehelpful stress reducing strategies. These techniques are effective stress management toolsbecause their utilizationis within our control. The relaxation approaches to stress management include a variety of techniquesdesigned to help you effectively manage the body/mind tension. Progressive musclerelaxation is an active form of relaxation where you individually contract the major musclegroups of your body for about five seconds and then you relax the individual muscle groupsfor a five second holds. The contrast experienced by this exercise relieves muscle tensionand relaxes the body. Some of the more passive relaxation approaches include listening tomusic, reading and using saunas and hot tubs to relieve tension. Techniques used to relax themind include meditation and visual imagery. Meditation teaches you how to clear the mindof stressful and distracting thoughts by focusing the mental energy on positive copingthoughts. Visual imagery is designed to help the individual visualize him/herself coping
effectively with a stressor that was previously experienced as overwhelming. The behavioraland relaxation approaches described above are necessary but not sufficient conditions forstress management. The third prong to stress management, the cognitive or thinkingapproach, is essential to effective coping with stress. The cognitive or thinking approaches are an integral part of coping effectively withstress and now the primary focus of many stress management programs. Since it has beendetermined that we can turn off the stress response by changing our threatening/dangerousevent appraisals to appraisals that help us view these events as manageable challenges, wehave a direct link to controlling the stress response. The first step in the cognitive approachis to identify our thoughts or internal dialog that is negative, perfectionist, black and white,rigid and demanding. In other words, you are more likely to experience stress if you believethat you, the world and other people "should or must" behave in a manner consistent withyour demands and standards. For example, you are likely to experience stress if you believethat the world and your life should be stress free and that you do not have the resources tohandle stress if it does occur. In addition, demands of perfection on yourself and on othersimportant to you, increases the chance of feeling stressed since these expectations areunrealistic and rigid. After identifying your stress producing thoughts you are then able tomove onto the second step in the cognitive approach; recognizing the consequences of thisnegative, rigid dialog. The motivation to change the stress-producing dialog comes from the determinationthat there are serious consequences that result form these negative, rigid thoughts. When youtalk to yourself in a defeated, pessimistic or rigid way, you deny your ability to cope and arenot likely to manage situations effectively or meet goals you set. In addition, perfectionistdemands are experienced as appropriately unrealistic and contribute to a "why bother"attitude. This attitude reduces the likelihood that you will address these demands since it is arealistic fact that no one or nothing is ever perfect. Once you are convinced that the dialog isnegative and counterproductive, you are ready to move on to the third step in the cognitiveapproach; challenging and replacing the negative internal dialog with a healthier, moreproductive internal dialog. This important step in the reappraisal process requires that you challenge your rigiddialog by asking yourself a series of questions about that rigid dialog. For example, "Why
must I perform perfectly in order to believe I am a valuable human being?" In addition,"Does that demand for perfection increase my anxiety and reduce the likelihood that Iperform well at all?" "What would I feel like and would I be more motivated if I changed mydemand for perfection to a desire to do well?" Another example of this reappraisal processcan be seen in the area of criticism and rejection. A negative internal dialog that would create stress in this area is "I am worthlessbecause I was rejected and this proves that no one will ever love me." A healthy challenge tothis belief would be, "How does the opinion of this person reflect my personal worth?’ "Howdoes it follow that this rejection will lead to future rejections?" It is also important to add, "Even if I were to get rejected repeatedly, could I work to make desired changes in mypersonality without condemning myself or feeling worthless?" By replacing the negative,rigid dialog with more realistic, flexible dialog, you are more likely to feel healthieremotionally and behave more rationally and productively. The behavioral, relaxation and cognitive techniques described above have beendetermined to be effective ways to manage and cope more effectively with stress. Thetechniques give the control back to the individual and empower him/her to manage theinevitable stressors that will occur in life.
FACTORS THAT CREATE A STRESSFUL CALL CENTERStress in the Call Center will affect the agent, manager, director, or anyone in the call centerwhen they let stress gain control. When this happens, they lose self control and have thefeeling of being overwhelmed. The first step in gaining control is and identifying what thestressors are and understanding the causes and effects. Stress is caused by many things. Timepressures, high expectations, lack of communication, high call volume, inexperience, ill-prepared, to name a few. The effects are decreased productivity, anxiety, low morale, poorcustomer service levels, and increased turnover. When faced with these stressors, training isthe tool to resolve the issues. You must go to your training programs and processes and askyourself if the training you are providing the call center employees delivers the toolsrequired for them to accomplish their goals without the negative stress. Approach dealingwith the stress in the Call Center with assertiveness and confidence. One of the mosteffective things I have done, in my own call center experience, as well as seen in other callcenters, is to have a specific workshop covering stress. Let employees voice their specificstressors and develop actions to overcome them and resolve what is inhibiting theirperformance. Their minds are then clear and mentally prepared. It will then be motivated fortraining to make them a more confident and capable call center employee.• LACK OF COMMUNICATION This is a call center disease that some call centers just gravitate to simply becauseeveryone is too busy with their job duties and with doing someone elses jobs that we simplyforget to communicate. Sounds harmless but if you dont address it could slowly but surelydrag down your centers morale, employees self esteems, work life balance, job security,employees productivities, etc.• HIGH VOLUME This one is a little tougher because the causes could be variety of different issues. Themore common symptom of high volume is poor workforce mgmt. Put, workforce teamneeds to be very proactive in correctly forecasting your volume two weeks in advance
(within 98% of the actual volume) and be ready with a staffing analysis of how efficientCSR schedules are by day for you. If this is every week from your workforce team, you willbe well aware of your holes every day for the next two weeks and you can make staffingdecisions before the day happens. If your workforce team is good, then you will betterprepare to handle spikes/lull in your volume. Another symptom of high volume is poor attendance/retention - if you consistentlydont have the reps that you planned for, then you might as well stay home too. Issues likethese are harder to address because the root causes are never the same. You have to go theemployees and find out why they are not coming to work or why they are leaving you. Onceyou have an idea of the root causes, then you and your team can creatively find solutions orcreate new policies to address them. High volume is a self feeding animal - if you dont get control of it, it will surelybrings down your operation. Your frontline supervisors will have to help out on the phonesall the time and they cant work with their CSRs. Employees are constantly going from onecall to the next without much breaks in between. Your boss is constantly on you for highASAs and Abandon %s, blah - the story goes on and on and the picture doesnt look pretty.• Common causes include understaffing, impossible service levels, inappropriate or oppressive management style, mis-match between agent skills and job requirements, mis-match between the stated aims of the job and the actual work being done (e.g. a sales centre that is swamped with technical service complaints), jobs that require no thought on the part of the operator and that could/should be automated (directory enquiries, bank balance requests etc).
EMOTIONAL LABOUR "Emotional labor is defined as the effort expended (and the concomitantphysiological arousal) to manage or regulate oneÂ’s emotional reactions at work. This effortis necessary for exhibiting those performance behaviors valued by the organization, andsuppressing the expression of less acceptable behaviors. Service employees are particularlyvulnerable to a demand for emotional labor, because their jobs generally require maintaininga friendly and positive demeanor despite job characteristics that may engender negativeemotional reactions (e.g., irate customers, complex problem solving, or hectic work pace).Any work setting which engenders negative emotional reactions from employees, whilerequiring the suppression of certain behaviors associated with these emotions (e.g., yelling,abruptly hanging up the phone, or scowling), is fertile ground for emotional labor. Thestereotypical customer service call center is such a work place."
SUGGESTIONS• HANDLING THE ABUSE Agents handle an average of 110 calls a day, and 80 percent of the calls that come inhave some level of emotion. Usually a caller is calling in because theyre frustrated, angry,upset, concerned—something has happened and theyre not happy. Therefore, it is crucial that agents and especially the call center manager note theseoccurrences and become better prepared and informed on handling them for the sake of theirworkers and their callers. In these situations the task should become how to handle this typeof emotional call rather than instantly labeling it "abusive" and not acceptable.• JOB ROTATION We instituted job sharing/intern program in our call center. CSRs who meet orexceed job expectations are eligible to do a rotation for three months in other groups. CSRswork half a day on the phones, the other half in the Correspondence Dept, or in the ResearchDept, Work Force Management, or Quality Assurance. This breaks up their day, teachesthem new skills, & provides us with a pool of trained staff whenever we need it. have a jobrotation program that alternate telephone staff to do administrative tasks to break up the dayto day grind.• SPORTS ACTIVITIES In our call center, what we followed recently is that we organised a sports weekwhere we asked the agents and their supervisours to organise and also take part in the same.This has brought a change in their working performance as far as we can see. I personally
feel that you should organise something that will allow the agents change their daily routineand do something routine.• BUDGET FOR ACTIVITIES If employee turnover is a major problem, you may want to budget money foremployee activities / incentives. I have a activity commitee that plans birthday decorating,holiday potlucks, contests, etc. Involve the staff to join and participate in the commitee.• WEEKLY EMPLOYEE FOCUS GROUP Any employee can come to a weekly or bi weekly focus group with the call centermanager and human resource manager. Questions from the employees are posted publiclyand the date that the issues were addressed. Over time, I have seen focus groups that startedwith very serious issues slowly evolve to sessions that become more like rap sessions - morefun and less serious.• MONTHLY NEWSLETTER FROM THE COMPANY Yes, this is a time consuming endeavor but if done right and done consistently, couldbe a great medium to communicate new/revised policies, reward employees/teams, trainyour employees, and build strong team spirits.• DAILY DEPARTMENT HUDDLE Each team/department should be highly encouraged to have this quicky huddle dailywith their employees. This goes a long way in building that strong bond between employeesand supervisors and yes, you can also use this time to communicate.
• MONTHLY LETTER FROM THE BOSS It could be from the VP of Ops, or it could be from the CCM. The point is, thecompany will have an opportunity every month to speak to the workforce. STEPS TAKEN BY COMPANIES TO HANDLE STRESSFACTORS“Good Call Center Training Alleviates Stress”1. Acknowledge the Emotion Listen to the caller and acknowledge that something has happened to make thememotional. Acknowledge it and move on to the next step before it escalates to an abusivecall.2. Take Control of the Call Strong words choices will immediately diffuse the emotional aspect of the call. Byusing strong "I can" statements and proper word choices such as "Absolutely, I would beglad to help you with …", "I can look that information up for you” instead of emphasizingthe "you" in statements like, "can you tell me what happened?"--where the customerimmediately feels like theyre speaking with the wrong person—after all they wouldn’t becalling if they knew what was wrong.3. Transition into the Problem Solving Path Finally, to get the caller out of their emotional state, transition them into a problemsolving path. Once they have had a chance to get through the emotional part, move on sotheir issues can be resolved.
BPOs HELP STAFF COPE WITH STRESS MUMBAI: Blame the nature of the job, deadline pressure or customer expectations.BPO jobs undoubtedly involve high stress. Prashant Chawla, COO, Integreon, a Mumbai-based KPO, says that there are three types of stress an employee may experience — tightdeadlines, repetitive nature of the job and late night shifts. Aashu Calappa, VP-HR, ICICI OneSource, says, “Everything gets measured and thisputs employees under pressure.” Companies are now making efforts to help their employeescope with stress because it is an occupational hazard. For example, night shifts are rotated ona regular basis. However, deadlines can’t be controlled. Most of the BPOs arrange ‘feel good’ activities like an outdoor picnic or an officialdinner once in three months. This helps employees talk to their senior management in aninformal environment. Employees are also given recognition by being designated as‘employee of the week’ and ‘employee of the month’. Vineet Mittal, president and MD,Stream, says that they conduct in-house workshops at frequent intervals in which employeesplay games and indulge in activities like dumb charades and scrabble. Mr Calappa says they organise various events like family gatherings andValentine’s Day celebrations to lighten the atmosphere in the office. According to him, anemployee could be stressed because of a tough supervisor or if he is not able to perform wellin his job. So, there is a lot of emphasis on the training of team leaders (TL) and supervisorsto avoid a strained relationship between the employee and the TL. BPOs like Stream have appointed ‘fun officers’ whose job is to arrange a party or amovie for the entire office once in a month. Similarly, ICICI OneSource has an executivewho is required to spend at least two hours daily at the shop floor talking to employees abouttheir day-to-day life. 3Global, a Hutchison-Whampoa BPO, has also appointed an executiveto arrange sports events on a monthly basis.
Shirish Kerkar, general manager, HR, 3Global, says, “We organise sports events likecricket tournaments to ensure that our employees are engaged in physical activities.” Thecompany recently concluded a cricket tournament where 300 employees participated (10people per team). Shilpa Shetty, a BPO employee, who heads a 200-member team says, “Our deadlinesare in hours and not days or weeks. So the stress is obviously high. I’m heading a large team.So, managing it is a big challenge, which at times, may stress me out.” She has adopted aninteractive way of dealing with workplace stress. She makes sure that she talks to her teammembers on a daily basis, which may not necessarily be about work. “I do a lot of catchingup with my team members, which helps me to understand them better,” she adds. Another BPO employee, Prashant Warrier, who interacts with the company’s clientsacross the globe says, “People at my level are the first ones from the company to interactwith the clients, so its puts pressure on us to present our company well because clients aredemanding.” Sanjay Salooja, a Delhi-based counsellor visits BPOs to counsel theemployees. He says generally, front-line employees and team leaders talk to him about bothprofessional and personal problems like long working hours and family demands. Besidesteaching them breathing exercises and yoga, the employees are taught to look at things froma different perspective. They are encouraged to take ownership and be accountable for theirjob in the organisation. Traditionally, call centres meant only voice-based customer support. But now mostcall centres are more of a contact centre, offering E-CRM services, that include voice basedcustomer support as well as e-mail response, web-based text-chat services and othercustomer interaction channels. The call centre services can be inbound where in calls arereceived from customers enquiring about a service or product that an organisation provides.The call centre services can be outbound where in calls are made to customers to sellproducts or collect information/money etc. Call centre services can also specialised say inbusiness processing where in calls are made from one company to another company. Some call centres stick to only domestic businesses dealing with customers withinthe country called domestic call centres while others such as an International call centremainly deal with clients from abroad say from US, Europe etc. There is a great scope for
Call centres in India, with a large population of educated English speaking people. The widerange of opportunities, comparatively well paid jobs for the minimum qualification itrequires and the facilities the companies provide like to and fro transport, subsidized mealsand medical facilities makes Call centres a good option.